(JTA) – Israel opened its first embassy in Lithuania.
The event was celebrated during a ceremony Thursday, the Baltic News Service (BNS) reported, in the capital city of Vilnius, where one in four residents was Jewish before the Holocaust.
Lithuania used to have 250,000 Jews but the vast majority were killed by German Nazis and their local collaborators.
Israel’s first ambassador to the Baltic nation is Amir Maimon.
Lithuania opened its embassy in Israel shortly after the two countries established diplomatic relations, in 1992 – a year after Lithuania regained its independence from Russia following the fall of the Soviet Union. In 2012, Lithuania, which has been a member of the European Union since 2003, appointed a commercial attache to serve in Israel.
Israel, however, refrained from opening an embassy in Lithuania. The Jewish state was represented in Lithuania by Israel’s embassy in the capital of neighboring Riga.
“Flying a flag here in Vilnius carries a special significance. This is a country which is a cornerstone in Jewish heritage, where some of the great Jewish thinkers came from,” Dan Ushpizin, a senior Israeli diplomat who attended the ceremony Thursday, said during the event.
During the opening ceremony, a rabbi affixed a mezuzah to the doorframe of the newly-opened embassy, BNS reported.
In recent years, the Lithuanian state’s equating of Nazism and Communism – Lithuania is the only country claiming that its people were the victims of a genocide that it said was perpetrated by the Soviet Union – have damaged the country’s reputation internationally and in Israel, where many perceived the claim as a means to exculpate Lithuania from its wartime government’s deep complicity in the Holocaust.
In 2008, Lithuanian prosecutors began probing three Holocaust survivors who were declared suspects of war crimes allegedly committed during World War II. The investigation was abandoned amid an international outcry.